Why simple fundraising always works

Good fundraising is always disarmingly simple: Feed a baby. Stop a disease. Save a puppy.

As a professional who deeply understands the work, you may find these simple offers to be over-simplifications. You’re intuitively sure that adding more of the real-world complexity to the offer will make it more effective. After all, the more they understand, the more they’ll give, right?

No.

Time and again, I hear two reasons fundraisers give for putting complex fundraising in front of donors:

  1. People won’t give unless we give them the whole picture.

Wrong. Giving people the whole picture is a really excellent way to make sure they don’t give. If you want to move people to action you’ve got to keep it simple.

  1. People’s support will be in some way less whole-hearted and committed unless they have the big picture.

There’s a small grain of truth to this belief, but it’s more like this: People who are deeply committed have a higher likelihood of getting the big picture. It doesn’t follow that those whose understanding is less deep is of such low quality that you simply don’t want them.

Truth is, every donorfile has some fanatics on it — the people who really get it, and who want the complicated insider stuff. These folks give more than average.

But the large majority of most donorfiles are “amateurs.” They want to feed hungry babies; they have nothing against improving the economic output of local communities — it’s just that they don’t understand that, so they don’t get emotional about it, so they don’t give. On average, their giving and retention are lower than the fanatics’, but they are your numerous foot-soldiers, the ones who make the program viable.

If you insist on screening out the ordinary people with complex offers designed to net fanatics, your fundraising program won’t be viable. You won’t get enough fanatics to pay for your efforts.

Because most fanatics don’t come to you fully formed that way. They “graduate” from amateur status.

So keep it simple. Nothing good comes from complex fundraising.


Comments

6 responses to “Why simple fundraising always works”

  1. Charlie Hulme Avatar
    Charlie Hulme

    True – back in 1996 George Smith wrote in his book ‘Asking Properly’ that we “beguile ourselves with the belief that the educated donor has finally arrived. This is a creature who gives to Oxfam because s/he appreciates the role of development in the South, who gives to WWF because s/he knows all about biological diversity, who gives to a cancer charity because s/he reads New Scientist.
    S/he may exist. Indeed s/he may represent five per cent of donors. But there is no evidence whatsoever that we have increased the proportion of these knowledgeable and erudite people. At the risk of being totally overbearing I would suggest that most people give to Oxfam because they want hungry people fed, that they give to WWF because they want tigers saved and that they give to Cancer Research UK because they know a cancer sufferer”.

  2. Charlie Hulme Avatar
    Charlie Hulme

    True – back in 1996 George Smith wrote in his book ‘Asking Properly’ that we “beguile ourselves with the belief that the educated donor has finally arrived. This is a creature who gives to Oxfam because s/he appreciates the role of development in the South, who gives to WWF because s/he knows all about biological diversity, who gives to a cancer charity because s/he reads New Scientist.
    S/he may exist. Indeed s/he may represent five per cent of donors. But there is no evidence whatsoever that we have increased the proportion of these knowledgeable and erudite people. At the risk of being totally overbearing I would suggest that most people give to Oxfam because they want hungry people fed, that they give to WWF because they want tigers saved and that they give to Cancer Research UK because they know a cancer sufferer”.

  3. What suggestions do you have for incorporating a story into your fundraiser?

  4. What suggestions do you have for incorporating a story into your fundraiser?

  5. Marriam: Tell it. Every time you have something you want your donors to know, seek a story that shows them what you want to say, not just facts that tell them.

  6. Marriam: Tell it. Every time you have something you want your donors to know, seek a story that shows them what you want to say, not just facts that tell them.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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